TULSA — Putnam City West coach Lenny Bert warned his players before the game: If you want the gold ball, go rebound.
It wasn’t a lack of effort, but a lack of size against third-ranked Tulsa Union’s daunting frontcourt that led to No. 1 PC West losing the rebounding battle, and then the game.
Union (27-2) claimed its third boys basketball championship in Saturday night’s Class 6A title game, 72-64 over PC West at the Mabee Center.
“I told them the team that won the rebounding battle would win the game,” Bert said. “That was our pregame strategy. Union crashed it hard. They’re big and they killed us on the glass.”
PC West was able to hang with Union’s size when they met in January as the Patriots defeated them in the finals of the Putnam City Invitational.
But there were two big changes since then, which contributed to Union’s 38-29 rebounding edge Saturday.
PC West lost its best rebounder, 6-foot-4 Tyson Jolly, because of a heart condition. And the Redskins regained their strongest big man, 6-foot-7, 220-pound Carson Meier, who not only caused problems with his size, but also in the attention he drew away from others — especially Shawn Olden.
“He opens up the perimeter game, opens it up for other players inside,” Union coach Rudy Garcia said. “Obviously they’re not as big as us, so they’ve got to pay attention to him. They couldn’t contain him and we got the job done.”
Olden scored 20 points and had nine rebounds, constantly slashing to the basket. He was 12-of-16 at the free throw line. Meier and 6-foot-7 swingman Jeffery Mead — both of whom have signed to play football at Oklahoma — had 16 and 14 points, respectively, while pounding the boards consistently.
Having to watch Union lose at PC West earlier in the season provided some motivation for Meier.
“I was thinking about that a lot,” Meier said. “Sitting on that bench, it hurt a lot to watch us lose and know I couldn’t do anything about it.
“This was a really emotional game for me. I usually don’t get as into it as I did tonight. It meant a lot.”
UTEP signee Omega Harris had 25 points for the Patriots, who were making their first appearance in the state championship game. Travon Moore and Santa Clara signee Stephen Edwards added 10 apiece, while freshman Nick Robinson had nine.
The Patriots (26-3) trailed 34-26 late in the first half, but fought back to tie the game at 40 midway through the third quarter. Yet Union responded with a 14-2 run that essentially put the game out of reach.
Bert knows he has plenty of talent returning, though he loses some valuable seniors, like Harris, Edwards and Moore. But he wants Saturday’s loss to be more than a basketball game to his players.
“If they can learn a life lesson out of this, that’s what it’s all about,” Bert said. “I know that’s what has gotten me through life, what I learned from basketball.
“You saw the great crowd we had here. When has it been like that at PC West? We’ll grow from this. Morale is up. We brought people together. We got out-coached and out-played tonight, but we’ll learn from it. We’re gonna live another day.”